Day One: Twelve Days of Christmas

Day 1

Have you ever lost a child? Ever had to search for your child?

When The Kids Were Young

We took separate cars to church. I would leave early and the family would come later. It worked fine. But not the Sunday when my wife left after church, thinking our son was coming with me. I walked in the house, she looked at me, and said,

“You left him behind?”

I went searching and found him at the Father’s house, he was still at church.

And Jesus?

At age twelve, Jesus was no longer a boy, but transitioning to manhood. Culturally, if he had learned the Torah, he would be rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. He was with Mary, Joseph and the caravan as they traveled to the temple.

Afterwards, returning home, they realized that Jesus was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan. So, Mary and Joseph went back to look for him, probably walking all night. Imagine how worried they must have been, and afraid.

They Found Him

After three days, they found him in the temple courts, with the Rabbis, who were amazed with Jesus. Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more astonished. They were upset with their first born.

Jesus in the Temple Courts

Mary said,

“Son, why have you treated us like this? We have anxiously searched for you.”

Jesus said,

“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  

But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that his being in the Father’s house was being about the Father’s business.  

His Father’s Business

Before he ascended, there was a resurrection, a tomb, a cross, and a ministry. There was time in Egypt. There were shepherds, wise men, and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were the Fathers’ business.

In Closing

Jesus was never lost, and frankly, didn’t need his parents to find him, but we understand why they did. He wasn’t lost, just moving forward to the time when he would be the one doing the searching, the one who would seek and save the lost.

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Merry Christmas

Twelve Days of Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Is it really? 

It’s What The Song Says

Do you know Edward Pola or George Wyle? Probably not? But you know a song they wrote,

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

They published their song in 1963, and that same year Andy Williams recorded it on his Christmas album, cleverly entitled, “The Andy Williams Christmas Album.”

Some Of The Lyrics:

“With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer.”

“It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call.”

“There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

carolingwp
Not my typical Christmas, not even close!

A Wistful Carol?

It describes the Christmas I always want but never have. It mentions parties, friends dropping by, and gay happy meetings. And don’t forget the marshmallows and caroling. Sounds wonderful. It should, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Truthfully, Christmas isn’t like that for me. It’s often rushed, harried, and stressful. There are deadlines to meet and too many events to attend. The kids aren’t jingle belling, nobody’s dropping by and there’s no snow for caroling.

Am I A Scrooge?

Nope, I love Christmas. It just can’t live up to the hype. The song portrays an experience  beyond my reach. For me, the beauty of Christmas is found elsewhere.

It’s found in the birth of Christ. My Christmas is a blend of the bible story and our personal traditions.

During the year, I’m all about his death, burial, and resurrection. But in the holiday season, I’m all about his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

To Close

I live in Houston, so I probably won’t be caroling in the snow. However, I will be celebrating and thinking how the universe must have shivered in awe as God came near in the infant King.

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Over the next twelve days, I’ll blog the Christmas story, beginning with his childhood and moving back to the night of his birth.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Merry Christmas

Mr. Hopkins: “We Three Kings”

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”

The Christmas Carol

It was written by John Henry Hopkins, the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport. He composed his famous carol, for a Christmas pageant, in 1857 but it didn’t appear in print until his Carols, Hymns and Songs was published in 1863.

Most of us know the first few lines, but take the time to read them all, it’s quite an effective telling of the story.

We three kings of orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown him again;
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God Most High.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia!,
Earth to Heaven replies.

Not To Be Tedious, But…

We don’t know how many wise men came, and they weren’t kings, but highly educated men who were philosophers, theologians, astronomers, astrologers, educators, and travelers. They counseled kings. They were somewhere between a President’s cabinet and a Supreme Court. Their knowledge of the coming Messiah likely emanated from Daniel, knowledge the Magi passed down through their generations until the time came.

The Magi were powerful, influential, and carried great authority. They weren’t Jewish, but Gentile, of Arab descent. Those gentile amabassadors traveled hundreds of miles to worship and to proclaim that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Think of it as a grand announcement, informing the world the savior had come. He was Emanuel, God with us.

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To Close

It’s quite a story. It’s quite a song. Thank you Mr. Hopkins for writing such a wonderful Christmas carol!

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”

Merry Christmas

It’s A Winter Wonderland!

It’s been a crazy morning.

What Has?

Shoveling the snow. Houston was hit last night with a massive snow storm, the likes of which has never been seen. And me? Well, not owning a snow shovel I had to use my wife’s flower spade. Grueling.

Pandemonium

Its pandemonium out there. Most of Houston’s freeways are closed due to black ice on the overpasses, accidents, and widespread snowy mayhem. 

How Deep?

Well, in my neighborhood it reached a full inch, perhaps less. But the snow drifts! O my, the snowdrifts. There is one in my yard approaching 2, possibly 2.5 inches. I was afraid to step in it for fear of sinking down to the top of my flip flops.

Here’s a few pics for verification

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To Close

This blog is just fun and nonsense. But frankly, when I looked outside this morning around 5:00, I couldn’t believe it, how wonderful. Yep, at long last it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

A couple of months ago, I looked out and saw flooding and devastation.

On reflection, I prefer the snow!

                                 Merry Christmas

Met With Overwhelming Choices!

 I’ve been looking for bookcases.

Why?

Because the old ones were destroyed in the flood. I’ve been looking at new bookcases so I can empty the boxes and get my office back together.

Looking Where?

In stores, but mostly online:

  • Overstock.com
  • Wayfair
  • Amazon
  • Hayneedle
  • Ikea
  • Furniture stores
  • Office Furniture stores
  • And so forth

Find Any?

O yes. I have found hundreds, thousands, from $150 to $2500.

oak bookcases

Bookshelves that were…

  • Tall
  • Short
  • Wide
  • Narrow
  • Deep
  • Shallow
  • Oak
  • Pine
  • Birch
  • Poplar
  • Composite
  • Plywood
  • Painted, stained, and distressed

It was overwhelming. I felt overwhelmed.

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Not the shelves I needed, but close, really very close.

What did I do?

 I had our Executive Minister make the decision. She has excellent taste and finds the right thing for the right space. But not me, I was ready for pine boards and cinderblocks.

The bookcases were delivered yesterday and they look great. It’s amazing what happens when you ask the right person with the right skills for help.

To Close

I’ve had other overwhelming needs, like being lifted out of the darkness and brought into the light. The forgiveness of sins, a new birth, and a divine connection. I needed a relationship with God.

Guess what! I found the right person with the right skills to help me. His name is Jesus, the Messiah, our Emanuel, and I’ve been invited to his birthday party. It’s in a couple of weeks and I’m so excited!

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As one furniture salesman said to me:

“He’s the reason for the season.”

It’s The Month of Our Lord!

Welcome to December, the birth month of Christ.

Still Debated?

At one time, it was important to me to argue about the date Jesus was born, and I could argue it still, but I won’t.

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Why Not?

Because I don’t care. It’s not apathy, I’m just less interested in arguing things I can’t prove, and if I could, would it make much difference?

I’ve planted my flag in the ground of peace, for he is the Prince of Peace and instructs me to live in peace.

Yes, there is theology and doctrine that should be defended with conscientious diligence. But his birthdate isn’t one of those.

It’s A Celebration

The angel told the shepherds how to find Mary, Joseph, and their infant son. He said he brought good news of great joy for all the people, that a savior had been born: Christ the Lord. The infant savior was the anointed of God.  

Saviors save, it’s their purpose, and Jesus came to save. It’s what the angel told Joseph:

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Even his name was about salvation, for Jesus or, “Yeshua” in Hebrew, means,”God saves.”

Jesus said about himself:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

To Close

Frankly, I don’t think the Messiah was born in December. But whether he was or not, he did come, and his coming made all the difference! 

Welcome to December, the birth month of Christ!

Shalom

It’s Not Really About The Carpet

It will take over 2,000 squares.

Of What?

Of carpet. We’ve had a bare floor in our Worship Center since the flood.

Here’s The Thing

The new carpet wasn’t delivered in giant rolls, but in boxes of carpet squares, each one measuring 2 feet by 2 feet. If my math is right, and that’s unlikely, it will take 2,250 squares to cover the 9,000 square ft floor. Is that right? Did I get it wrong?

Either way, its buckets of squares. 

carpet squares
Not our floor, or our carpet squares, but close, really very close.

Why Squares?

Well, it’s become common to install carpet squares in large applications. Some advantages:

  1. If one gets stained, pull it up, clean it, and put it back. 
  2. If one gets damaged, pull it up and put another one in its place. 
  3. If a big area gets damaged, like in a flood, replace it with new squares.

Some Thoughts

  1. No, the seams aren’t obvious. 
  2. No, it isn’t cheap carpet.
  3. No, it didn’t take weeks, just a few days to install.

It’s true, good things come in small packages. 

Now Jesus

Two lessons about the mustard seed:

1. “Is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” Luke 13:19

2. “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.'” Luke 17:6

Those were metaphorical, right? Faith can’t be measured by its mass, volume, or weight. Its hyperbole: exaggeration for effect. God doesn’t care about our replanting trees and birds will perch on the branches, but not all the birds. 

His poignant illustrations taught this idea: Don’t say you can’t do something, or that you won’t try, because your faith is too small or weak.

Even the smallest faith can move mountains!

For Us

Sometimes I ask God to increase my faith because his teaching is hard and I don’t want to obey. So, I make it his problem. I put my lack of obedience on his shoulders.

“Increase my faith Lord, make it easier for me, and I’ll gladly do it.

To Close

Great faith isn’t delivered in giant rolls. It comes in small pieces, one piece at a time. So, keep obeying, keep doing what is right, and watch your faith grow.

Eventually, you’ll have a full floor of faith, a great foundation for your life.

Shalom

 

Not A Superstar, Or Even A Star!

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player.

Why Is That?

I was never any good. In fact, I wasn’t any good at several sports.

  • Baseball: couldn’t hit, field, or throw.
  • Golf: lowest score is an 87, clubs in the attic.
  • Tennis: couldn’t find the sweet spot.
  • Hockey: never tried, assuming I wouldn’t have been a star.
  • Swimming: love to swim, but competitive swimming?

Five sports in which I didn’t get trophies, scholarships or professional sponsors.

Didn’t Try Hard Enough?

Optimism is good. Some say if you hold on to your dream, work hard enough and never give up, that you will succeed. Maybe. But at 7’-1” and 260 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal could never have won the Kentucky Derby. No matter how optimistic, he was never going to be a winning jockey.

I was never going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, or quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, or beat Jack Nicholas’s record of 18 major golf tournaments.

At age 61, the dream is probably over.

houston-astros
Not me out there on the playing field, not even close.

Now Jesus, Matthew 9:36

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Some of us didn’t become super-stars, or even stars. In fact, some of us became lost sheep, suffering life’s harassing hardships, and needing a helping hand.  

To Close

As I watch our Houston Astros in the World Series, I’m glad they were blessed with the gifts, opportunities, and drive to succeed at that  level.

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player. I’m happy being a rescued sheep.

Thank you Jesus.

It All Points to Him!

Believing that there was more, I began a spiritual quest to see more.

More of What?

More of God’s power. I began a quest to see his power beyond what I’ve experienced. To be so impacted that we would fall to our knees in praise because it all pointed to him.

Why?

In reading the scripture, I’ve come to see the greater working of God, of how he involves himself in the lives and ministry of his people.

My belief was too small and my faith was anchored in the smallness.

What I Don’t Mean

  1. Not miracles, wonders, and signs.
  2. Not an outpouring of the Spirit through me.
  3. Not a deeper understanding of a text.
  4. Nothing that draws attention to me.

What I Do Mean

  1. Worship that lifts us up like never before.
  2. Losing our self-awareness and ego.
  3. Salvation coming to hundreds instead of dozens.
  4. A revival of humility and holiness.
  5. The Spirit convicting & filling us with righteousness.

I’ve been asking, searching and waiting.

And Then…

Hurricane Harvey showed up. When it left, it left hundreds of thousands without power, homes, and businesses. It left having killed people. For almost a week it held us hostage. It held us in fear, and dread, and in many places, in water over our heads.

And Then…

The power of God was revealed like never before.

  1. Our church flooded but we worshiped any way, and it filled our souls.
  2. Gone were self-awareness and ego.
  3. People came in their shorts and sandals, it’s all they had.
  4. We were humbled and God-dependent.
  5. We were filled with righteous purpose.

And Then…

The miracles happened. God led us to save people on their roof tops. To people without resources, to widows, and retired couples, and to young families in need. He led us everywhere. He leads us still.

We helped each another, we helped strangers, and were helped by strangers. People took time off work to muck houses, to cook and deliver food, to serve. Volunteers showed up from all over the country. Money came when it was needed most. Calls of assistance came from everywhere. He brought about miraculous things, things we were never going to do on our own.

God involved himself in our lives and ministry.

To Close

Revival came. Righteousness and holiness have elevated us. Worship has never been so impactful. Gone are the walls of age, peer levels, and group dynamics. We have become one.

The power of God showed up. It wasn’t how I imagined it, but with God, it never is. And this morning, from my heart to yours, I can say…

It all points to Him!

god lending a hand

Dallas: Big Gates, Large Roads!

I successfully navigated through Dallas, almost. 

What?

Four of us drove to Dallas to attend a Family Ministry Conference. Getting into Dallas, there were many interstates and toll roads to negotiate. And by many, I mean there were two.

But rush hour traffic was heavy and I was unfamiliar with every foot of road. 

Arrive?

O yes, we arrived, and even had time for dinner before finding good seats for the evening program.

The Thing

But here’s the thing. As we moved into downtown Dallas, the others had their phones open to provide instructions of where to go and when to do it. Between their phone’s audio instructions and their loud verbal cues, I was locked up with stress and tension.

I got so confused, entirely my fault, that I drove down the middle of an interstate that required going either left or right, which were the east and west options. To have remained in the middle would not have worked out well. So, I made a choice. I chose badly.

Dallas 2

What Happened

We just went to the next exit, which I also missed. Then to the next one, which I made, but was instructed to take an immediate right which I couldn’t due to heavy traffic in the adjoining lane. So, moving on, I made the next right, went around and found the street leading to the onramp for the interstate taking us back to the east/west option that I had originally missed.

It all came together, we got on the correct interstate and in an hour or so, we arrived at our destination which was just a couple miles away.

Gratitude

I would like to thank my travel-mates, and their phones, and their phone’s audio instructions, or their efficient and loudly communicated assistance. It was super.

Now Jesus

“Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Jesus makes a good point. The gate leading to the wrong path is well-marked and easily accessed. It’s popular, everyone is making that choice and going down that path.

Almost everyone. There’s a second path, accessed by a narrow gate that isn’t not well marked or easily accessed. It’s a gate that leads to life. It’s just a path that isn’t popular, few seem to even be looking for it.

The narrow gate isn’t hard to find because its camouflaged or hidden. It’s hard to find because the bright lights of the giant gate and massive road are overwhelmingly attractive and inviting.

To Close

BTW: my travel companions were right. They followed the map. They gave good directions, but I wasn’t listening, and the not listening led to my mistakes. I took the wide gate and went down the wrong road.

Listening makes all the difference for getting where God wants us to be.

Shalom